Tell me about a project that did not go well or failed.

Anyone willing to share examples of how you have or would respond to this question?

Smacquarrie's picture

 Last year I ran a project to develop Andon criteria and come up with a response/escalation path for these issues. I was given an unreasonable time frame for the completion. This led to something we could submit but it was less effective than it could have been. Given a chance to redo it I would have asked for an extension and a clearly defined budget for the project. I had no budget other than time (1 hour a week) with 4 technicians. 

Does this example help?

SteveProthero's picture

Whilst not directly answering your question can I offer this up.  Often you will hit hurdles in your work - and work through it and learn.  Often we are not good at reflecting on what has happened as we often move onto the next issue or challenge.  My tip is to reflect on a weekly basis on what challenges you have addressed and what you have learnt over the week.  I recall that MT did have a podcast on keeping your resume up to date and this "exercise of reflection" is a key part of that - so what you end up with is a list of examples of what did not go right and what you did about it, as well as a quick assessment of "am I still learning in this job" or is it time to move on.  Hope this is of some value for the longer term.



Steve Prothero


nanzermd's picture

Pretty much what I was thinking, thanks for the reply.

ChrisBakerPM's picture

If the question does have value, it is to open a conversation about why projects fail (and what to be aware of to reduce the chance of failure), and also to see if your answer is going to leak something that gives them pause.
Re why projects fail (beyond the "we did not get the agreed tasks done on time and the right quality, or we did the wrong tasks"), I suggest Steve McConnell's excellent list of "Classic Mistakes" which come up time and time again in projects (It's a sample of his , er, classic book "Rapid Development") 
Re worrying information that you might leak, I suggest they are looking for you to blow yourself up with things like:

  1. Bitterness and/or personal attacks (suggesting you are a poor team worker, a difficult Direct to manage and/or have the knife out for colleagues if anything goes wrong)
  2. Giving the impression that nothing ever goes wrong for you (lack of self-criticism, or horrible to work with because of your excessive ego)
  3. You can't say anything coherent about what you would do differently another time (can't learn from your mistakes)
  4. You are willing to tell lots of juicy stuff that should clearly be covered by your duty of confidentiality to your  employer of the time (implying you are indiscrete and will be lax with their own secrets) don't do that.
I was thinking about what I would do if I couldn't give an example (too junior to have seen much grief as yet, or contractually unable to share the good example). I think I would try to pick a project from personal life (e.g. the mistakes you made organizing a charity event). Or explain why I couldn't give a personal example , but suggest discussing a project failure that is in the public domain. As an example, here is a link to the damning (and well-written) analysis by the National Audit Office of a large UK government IT project (glad it is NOT a project I was ever involved in!)
hope that helps!
PS - why I say it is not a great question; .  If your projects WERE all failing because you were chronically incompetent or lazy, you would hardly voluntarily  reveal that in answer to this question (unless you were stupid too...). So the answer that would be most revealing is the one they are least likely to get. And so it all too easily dissolves into gameplay   <sigh> - it's pretty obvious that you should  answer with an interesting explanation of why something went wrong (or nearly went wrong before you brilliantly saved it), plus how you turned the situation around or learned from it.  Its  like asking "What do you think are your weaknesses?"